Originally posted here by Linnea Dunne – republished with permission.
Five people die in Cavan, and in the days to come, Irish newspapers are full of questions. “Why did he do it?” asks one national daily, picturing a man and his three sons. “How could he kill those poor boys?” asks another.
It is almost immediately clear that the father, Mr Hawe, has stabbed the other four to death: the mother and the three sons. He has then killed himself. And in search for answers, we are told what an honourable man the murderer was: “a valuable member of the community”, “very committed” and “the most normal person you could meet”. Soon follow the calls for increased funding of mental health services.
Two days have passed since the tragic news broke, and today the Irish Times ran a front page reading “Wonderful children who will be missed by all who knew them”. “Killed in their pyjamas by father in frenzied attack,” goes one Independent headline alongside a photo of the boys. It is almost as if we’ve already forgotten: they were a family of five. Rest in peace, invisible mother.
The picture of the man who killed her, however, is becoming more multi-faceted by the day. Mr Hawe was “quiet and a real gentleman”, says one representative of the local council. His brother goes on to talk about his big passion, handball: he’d “won a number of titles”, “played from about eight years of age” and used to play “with his brother and his cousin”. A neighbour offers more praise: “He was the sole person who would do anything for anybody at any time of day or night. He was very obliging.”
It makes sense to draw the conclusion that the man must have been carrying some very dark, difficult secrets, that he must have been mentally tortured somehow. Why else would such a lovely man kill his wife and children before taking his own life? (There’s a study in here somewhere, comparing the reporting of events like this with the discourse surrounding abortion and mental health, with women being labelled murderers for ending pregnancies, stopping the growth of sometimes near-invisible clumps of cells, regardless how mentally tortured or suicidal they are.) But while a note found at the house suggests that Mr Hawe had been in “a vulnerable state of mind” at the time of the murders – and while I wholeheartedly agree with calls to end the stigma around mental illness – there is a different and important narrative for framing these events.
We hear about tragic killings like these every now and then. Nine times out of ten (I don’t have statistics, but my hunch is that the figure is far higher), the perpetrator is a man. Lots of people, men and women and non-binary people, struggle with mental illness, but it takes more than mental torture to brutally murder your own children. There is a patriarchal narrative that runs through this entire story, from the act itself to the reporting of it, and we need to allow ourselves to see it if we are to find a way to prevent similar events from happening again.
As Paul Gilligan of St. Patrick’s University Hopsital points out, killing a child requires a certain view of children, an idea that they must be controlled and managed and, in the case of murder suicides, that they cannot go on to live without the murderer. This ideal of control is part of the same patriarchal worldview that refuses to label domestic violence for what it is; that insists on publishing praise for a man who has just brutally murdered his wife and three children; that almost entirely omits the one woman from the story.
“Killed in their pyjamas by father in frenzied attack – before mother-in-law found note,” reads another headline. The narrative, of course, is from the viewpoint of the murderer: she was his mother-in-law. She was the children’s grandmother, the murdered woman’s mother. The murdered woman, then, is most often referred to as the murderer’s wife – relevant only as what she is in relation to the man who killed her. Her name is Clodagh.
A man murders four people in Cavan, and we are fed questions and statements of disbelief alongside praise of the murderer as a community man. On the front pages, we see the man and the three children he murdered. Two days in, Clodagh has all but become invisible. And you ask why feminists are so loud and angry?